Couple of weeks ago, I was walking back home from the grocery store near my neighborhood. A man was walking from the opposite direction. As he was getting closer to me, he turned his head and spat toward my direction (it didn’t come at me thankfully). Then he said “fu$king Chinese” quietly yet loud enough for me to hear.
I hear a certain group of people (Asian, mostly Chinese) becoming the target of discrimination lately around the world as they are associated with the COVID-19. Yes, the virus outbreak started in China but that doesn’t mean Chinese are the reason. It’s one random luck that it didn’t start in a small city in US or France or Chile.
The behavior of that man and many others who treated Asians unfairly is based on fear. When we are afraid, we resort to “easier” options, such as blaming others (“fight”), withdrawal (“flight”) or shutting down (“freeze”). It is how Amygdala, the central part of the limbic brain, reacts to threats or danger. While it’s natural to see our Amygdala reacting to any threats or dangers, it IS a problem when it “hijacks” our entire brain, making us fight, flee or freeze. Almost certainly, that man who spat toward me was the case of “Amygdala hijack“, as Daniel Goleman described in his book, “Emotional Intelligence”. Simply put, when Amygdala hijacks the brain, prefrontal cortex, the executive center of the brain, cannot do its job and does not let us see things in a balanced perspective. Hence, we fight, flee, or freeze.
The virus doesn’t know racism. It doesn’t know if we are Asian or Caucasian. It doesn’t know if we are Korean or Chinese. It applies to all of us — humans. It’s highly understandable that we are all worried and scared, because we all want to live life of well-being. We share that hope in common. As we feel frustrated, anxious, and worried about the current situation with pandemic, it is even more important that we pause and be mindful of this common humanity that we share.
Perhaps this pandemic is the first global event that everyone on earth is experiencing equally together, since World War II. That means this is a new experience to the majority of people on earth, except those who are 80 years old or older now. That’s also what we all share in common — the novelty of the event.
As many countries are implementing “shelter-in-place” or “stay-at-home” measures to flatten the curve, we all became prisoners in our homes. But the “prisoner’s dilemma” isn’t applicable in this case, because my freedom is literally in your hands, and vice versa. I wash my hands not only for myself but also for you. I stay home not only for myself but also for you. And you do the same. There is no other options. We all need to cooperate. There is no room for blaming others, either.
We are all in this together.